Lori Carey Photography

Friday, February 1, 2008

More Mojave Explorations: The National Preserve, Part I

I'm trying to catch up on writing about some of the other trips we've taken over the last few months!

Toad and I had been trying to put together a trip somewhere for just the four of us so she and I could take as much time with the cameras as we wanted without having to worry about keeping up with a group, and I had been wanting to see the singing Kelso Dunes for the longest time. We had first planned to do this trip in October but the wildfires broke out and we decided it was better to stay close to home. Then we tried in November, but the flu took out Toad and BullFrog for weeks, so finally mid-December Bill and I met up with them in Baker before venturing out to wander somewhat aimlessly through the Mojave National Preserve toward whatever caught our eye.

We had considered possibly doing a portion of the old Mojave Road, but since we had already had some rain I knew that Soda Dry Lake might not be crossable. So we started by driving 35 miles down Kelbaker Road to talk to the ranger at new vistor center in the semi?-ghost town of Kelso.

I don't think the post office is receiving mail any longer!

The Kelso Depot is a Mission-style two-story building replete with stone arches and a red tile roof that was built by Union Pacific Railroad in 1924, and it is one of only two remaining depots of this style. It had overnight accommodations for employees, a telegraph office and waiting room for passengers. A restaurant was later added. Although trains still pass the station, the building had not been used in over 20 years. The town of Kelso once had a population of 2,000 when iron ore was mined during WWII; now less than a dozen people remain. Desert USA has nice little piece on the fascinating history of the train depot.

A few years back the National Park System decided to remodel the building for use as the main visitor center for the Mojave National Preserve, and it reopened in early 2006. Wow, what a beautiful job they did.

In addition to the having the friendliest and most helpful ranger I've met (and every one I've met has been fantastic so that's saying a lot), this building is gorgeous. I wish I had a better photo than this, but the harsh mid-day desert sun didn't want to cooperate from any angle.

The first thing you notice when you walk in is the long gleaming lunch counter. The ranger manning the center told us that they had been trying to contract with someone to re-open the restaurant but were having a very difficult time finding anyone willing to commit because Kelso is literally in the middle of nowhere. Such a shame because I imagine it would be a lot of fun to have lunch here, or maybe breakfast before hitting the trails.

The remaining rooms hold a theater, a gift store, and several interactive displays about the Mojave Desert. We spent a lot more time here than we planned because there was so much to see. After signing the guest book I asked the ranger about the condition of Soda Dry Lake and the best spot for primitive camping near the dunes. He told me it was a good thing I asked about crossing the lake because they had decided this morning that it looked like it could pose a problem and that they would most likely be sending someone out later that day to check on it. Rather than risk getting stuck in the caustic mud, we decided to head out to Hole in the Wall, then over to the dunes where we would camp for the night. Reassured that we were both driving 4WD, the ranger showed us a spot that he said would be perfect for both sunset and sunrise at the dunes. We planned to make it to the dunes in time to hike up for sunset, which meant we'd need to be there no later 2:00pm. We reluctantly left this beautiful piece of California history and set out toward Hole in the Wall.

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